Community-supported Cyclotron Catapults Local Nuclear Imaging Capability – and Patient Accessibility
Published Thursday, August 24, 2023
Message from Parker Jones
Chair, Board of Directors, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation
We’ve all heard about the cyclotron and what an amazing piece of equipment it is. But until you’ve listened to cancer patients tell stories about delays, it’s hard to understand the full impact of having a local supply of radioisotopes for nuclear imaging.
The problem is radioisotopes are only suitable for imaging for a very short time. Previously, we would get these radioisotopes from Hamilton or elsewhere. But they are so short-lived that if there are any delays during transport due to weather or other logistics, they expire before they get here.
PET scans are scheduled assuming the radioisotopes would be available when the patient arrived. That led to rescheduling appointments if they didn’t, which can be highly stressful when waiting on cancer tests. It was particularly frustrating for those patients coming from outside of Thunder Bay. In some cases, they’d have to make the dangerous drive back to their home community in the same weather that prevented the isotopes from arriving in the first place.
The cyclotron solves those problems. This highly sophisticated piece of equipment, housed in the basement bunker of the Medical Building on Oliver Road, allows us to make those radioactive isotopes right here in Thunder Bay. So instead of traveling across the province, the imaging isotopes only have to travel across the parking lot. That, combined with our new PET/CT scanner due to be operational soon, means that we have one of the province's most integrated nuclear imaging programs, if not the country. Very few have been installed to be used in quite the way we planned. We are “writing the book” as they say for future cyclotron programs in the country.
The story isn’t finished yet. There are opportunities for new imaging techniques including cardiac imaging. We will continue to develop new radiopharmaceuticals for even more diagnostic tests. Installing the cyclotron was a huge step forward, but it’s only the beginning when it comes to creating an advanced nuclear imaging program, right here in Thunder Bay.
I can’t stress enough how vital community support is. Our donors in Thunder Bay and across Northwestern Ontario are visionaries and trailblazers. We saw a challenge, and we rallied together to support a solution. Now, we have a local and consistent supply of radioisotopes that will help patients here and potentially patients at other hospitals. And we haven’t even touched on the cutting-edge research at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute.
Thanks to you, we’ve taken another significant step forward in our mission to bring closer-to-home care to Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario patients.